Bacha Khan’s non-violence creed
Canadian film-maker screens her movie in
By. Rahimullah Yousafzai
Twenty years after his death, freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan came alive
on screen here Thursday when a documentary on his eventful lie made by a
Canadian film-maker T C McLuhan was shown at the Frontier (Pakhtunkhwa) House,
residence of Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti.
“I believe non of us present in this hall could control our emotions while
watching this splendid documentary,” observed Hoti, grandson of late Abdul
Ghaffar Khan, after screening of the documentary titled “The Frontier Gandhi –
Badshah Khan: A Torch for Peace.”
Hoti said his grandfather’s message of non-violence was need for the hour at
the time when violence was raging in our region.
Badshah Khan, or Bacha Khan in Pashto, was the name given to him out of
reverence by his loyal and grateful followers, who wore red cotton uniform to
become known as the Red Shirts. The reformist movement’s more widely used name
was Khudai Khidmatgar, or Servants of God.
In the documentary ageing Khudai Khidmatgars recite a poem based on the oath
that every volunteer took while joining the movement. They proclaim being a
Khudai Khidmatgar and promise to serve humanity in the name of God.
The opening verse says that God doesn’t need any service and thus serving his
creation is like serving Him.
“The fewer words the better,” remarked McLuhan in her brief opening words. “You
cannot imagine my happiness to return to this place after four years,” she said
while referring to her previous visit when she did some filming in the
Pakhtunland. She pointed out that her documentary on Badshah Khan carried great
message of hope and peace.
Afrasiab Khattak, the ANP provincial president who is one of the commentators in
the documentary, said it took McLuhan 16 years to complete the project due to a
host of problems. He said McLuhan once wasn’t allowed to bring her camera to
Pakistan. “She persisted and pursued the project while encountering challenges
during filming in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan,” he said.
In an interview in New York when her documentary was premiered there in
November, the 62-years old McLuhan was quoted as saying that it had taken her 21
years to complete the project. She said she started working on it in September
1987 after conceiving the idea from a book on Bacha Khan by Indian author Eknath
Esawaran, who is featured in the documentary, wrote the book “A man to match his
mountains” to pay tribute to the Frontier Gandhi. Another title of the book is
“Non-violent Soldier of Islam.”
Apart from Esawaran, several Indian politicians and scholars talk about Bacha
Khan in the documentary and describe him as a great man who performed a miracle
by converting his gun loving and warlike Pakhtun people to non-violence.
They pointed out that Bacha Khan spent 35 years in prison but never compromised
on principles. M J Akbar, a well known Indian author and newspaper editor, noted
that media’s obsession with Mahatma Gandhi left no space for the other great
apostle of non-violence, Bacha Khan.
Former Indian prime minister I K Gujral, his country’s ex-foreign secretary
Salman Khurshaid, Gandhian activist Nirmala Deshpande and a number of retired
military and civil officers from India spoke highly about Bacha Khan’s
contribution to the freedom struggle against the British colonialists.
Former President General Pervez Musharrraf was the lone commentator in the
documentary who didn’t find anything praiseworthy about Bacha Khan Afghan
President Hamid Karai and his former minister Arif Noorazai showered praise on
the Khudai Khidmatgar leader, who was lived for years in Afghanistan and was
buried in Jalal Abad according to his will.
The documentary contains some rare footage. It is made memorable by the presence
of scores of old Khudai Khidmatgars, among them Qudrat Shah, Dheran Shah, Dr.
Ghulam Jilani, Ghulam Sarwar, Mir Dad and Ghazan Khan. In assertive tone they
talk about their love for Bacha Khan and the sacrifices the Khudai Khidmatgars
offered for the freedom of their homeland.
Five elderly women, wrapping themselves up in their shawls but brave enough to
speak to the camera, recount the virtues of Bacha Khan. Another one, Husan
Afroza, feeble and unable to walk without support, gives strength to others by
proclaiming her to be a fearless Khudai Khidmatgar.
Invitees at the inaugural screening of the documentary included lawmakers,
political leaders, scholars, poets, film-makers and artistes. Those asked about
the equality of the documentary felt it was a job well done. Some one remarked
that it had to be a Canadian rather than a fellow Pakhtun to make a documentary
on Bacha Khan.
Commercial screening of the documentary would take place in April next year. It
has been shown in a couple of film festivals in the US and Iceland.